Odd time for a new i-agency

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It's a fine time to be opening an i-shop. Internet professional service firms are laying off staff, their stocks are trading at all-time lows and new business is becoming increasingly scarce.

Which is why bluesphere, the new interactive agency EDS recently unveiled is raising eyebrows of industry watchers.

Bluesphere (www.bluesphere.com) is a new EDS company that tries to combine a design shop with EDS's systems integration capabilities. It launched in Plano, Texas, with 2,525 employees. Its offerings include marketing, e-commerce, wireless, and Web site design.

Bluesphere plans to tap the resources of the computer services giant's systems integration practice. Clients include vitamin and supplements retailer ClickWell, Norwegian Cruise Lines and the Francophonie Games, which takes place next year in Ottawa, Canada.

EDS launched a similar venture in 1997 called c2o Interactive Architects. But internal squabbling led to its demise. EDS folded it back into EDS's E.solutions unit last year. Now EDS is at it again.

"It looks schizophrenic," said Marissa Gluck, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, of EDS's decision to roll out.

Brad Rucker, president of bluesphere, defends the agency as having a different agenda from c20. "Basically [c2o] was the creative play with [Web] hosting," Mr. Rucker said. "There were several things missing."

"We felt the real sweet spot here is interactive integration," Mr. Rucker said. "We put the unit together with that in mind."

So does bluesphere have any better chances of survival than c2o did? Ms. Gluck doesn't believe so. "It sounds like they're playing with the structural organization of the company," she said. "The only thing different now is that Wall Street is less enthusiastic about professional service firms. You could see why [EDS would] do this two years ago, but it's a very different atmosphere now."

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